GE looks east

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“A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country.” General Electric, synonymous with American industry, and Jeffrey Immelt, its chief executive, are not getting much love at home. So they have gone east, announcing a new partnership with Abu Dhabi’s state-owned Mubadala Development Company.

Since April’s profit warning, Mr Immelt has announced various ruses to convince investors that GE works. Teaming up with Mubadala is an attempted rebuke to those calling for a break-up. The message – “only we are big enough to do this sort of deal” – is, in the long term, compelling. If regions such as the Middle East are where the growth and capital are, then it makes sense to cozy up. Companies such as Halliburton, the oilfield services group, have similarly expanded there. Focusing on areas such as energy, water, aviation and commercial finance marries GE’s strengths with the Middle East’s surfeit of capital and need for industrial development.

The kicker is Mubadala’s plan to become a top-10 shareholder in GE – a move that would cost $3.4bn at today’s price. Details remain vague, so this should not be thought of as a “Mubadala put”. Rather, with GE’s stock trading on its lowest earnings multiple in years, value investors are a natural constituency to tap for support. Mubadala, backed by state money and now with a vested interest in GE’s success, fits the bill.

This is not the catalyst for which some GE shareholders have hoped. Indeed, with credit concerns in GE’s financial services business top of investors’ minds, a re-rating of the stock looks dependent on a recovery in the financial sector. But Mr Immelt’s latest deal lends weight to his vision for the group’s future.

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